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Question: I feel taken for granted in my relationship lately. I tried to express my concerns, but nothing changed and it nearly caused an argument. I’m avoiding trying to talk about it again because I don’t want another fight. How can I start a difficult conversation if I’m afraid of conflict?

Answer: This is something I often need to teach people because so many people are afraid of being attacked or disappointed when expressing themselves clearly..

The fear of conflict can lead to attempting to control your partner’s response. This can result in low quality communication: lack of full honesty and authenticity. Out of fear, people can try to hide their important thoughts or manipulate their communication hoping to influence the other person’s response. That can make the other person uneasy, because they feel something is missing and they might feel manipulated. If they are a manipulative type, they can also find it easier to manipulate you, using your fear of conflict to make you back off or agree to something you don’t really want.

The fear of conflict can, in fact, cause much more conflict than necessary. It can lead to passive-aggressive behavior, which others may perceive as manipulation. Bottling up your emotions due to this fear can eventually lead to a loss of control, resulting in an immature, hurtful outburst. Such patterns have caused the end of more than one relationship.

To be able not only to start a difficult conversation but carry it through, you need to be willing to face your fears. You need to find at least a little spark of self-love and self-acceptance inside you, that would be like a calm place inside a storm. You need to prepare yourself to support yourself through discomfort.

Recognize that a lot of your fear is coming from your childhood – but you are an adult now. Maybe one or both of your parents were afraid of conflict and you modeled that fear. But how did it work for your parents? Probably not well. Perhaps some of that fear comes from even more distant ancestors, who lived in very different circumstances.

You need to connect to your inner child (or, more accurately, inner children), and tell them you will not die or be beaten up if you say how you feel. Tell them emotional discomfort is not the end of the world and can be handled. (If you are realistically afraid to be beaten up, then obviously the sooner that relationship is over, the better.)

The reason you are afraid of conflict is most likely fear of your own emotions. You are afraid of feeling shame, guilt, humiliation or inadequacy if your partner rejects you. These feelings might be intense, but almost always, they are a result of childhood trauma, not reality. (Check also: What Is Age Regression?)

Tell your inner child, “Your needs are important. Your emotions are just as valid as anyone else’s. You can’t ruin a good relationship by being honest. If honesty about your basic needs would ruin a relationship, then it isn’t the right relationship for you. In that case, it’s better to suffer some pain now, than more pain and wasted time later.”

Remember that just because an emotion is strong and uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean it’s realistic. The more you fight with an emotion, the more you avoid it, the stronger it becomes. So accept it, breathe through it, and focus on being kind and supportive to yourself.

Tell your inner child, “You can’t please everyone. No matter what you do, somebody with different desires might be frustrated and use anger to control you. This happens to everybody. You deserve respectful communication. Others’ anger does not mean something’s wrong with you.”

However, make sure that your own communication is also respectful and mature. If you insult people or use exaggerated accusations, if you attack their personality rather than express concerns about their behavior, you can’t get good results. If you learned low quality communication as a child, you can become less afraid of conflict by learning that better communication gives you better results.

Be willing to make mistakes. There’s no need to do them deliberately, of course, but accept that you might make them. Mistakes are a way to learn. They don’t mean something’s wrong with you. They simply mean you still have things to learn. The whole life is learning. The world is complex enough that no matter how long we lived, there is always more to learn. Just make sure that you consciously learn something from your mistakes. (Check also: How To Overcome the Fear of Making Mistakes)

The more you face your fears and practice self-compassion the less fear of conflict you will feel. Starting a difficult conversation will become easier and easier. The uncomfortable emotions will become milder. Eventually, it might become difficult to remember how afraid of conflict you once were.

If you’d like some more specific help with resolving your childhood trauma, our online coaching might be the right thing for you.

Read more:

10 Key Rules For Communication In A Relationship

How To Give Emotional Validation While Being Criticized

How To Give Advice To Your Partner Without Arguing

All articles 

Online coaching 

More questions and answers

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

Kosjenka Muk

I’m an Integrative Systemic Coaching trainer and special education teacher. I taught workshops and gave lectures in 10 countries, and helped hundreds of people in 20+ countries on 5 continents (on- and offline) find solutions for their emotional patterns. I wrote the book “Emotional Maturity In Everyday Life” and a related series of workbooks.

Some people ask me if I do bodywork such as massage too – sadly, the only type of massage I can do is rubbing salt into wounds.  😉

Just kidding. I’m actually very gentle. Most of the time.

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